Ben's Chili Bowl has painted over its famous mural featuring Bill Cosby, and the restaurant's owners say it has nothing to do with the numerous sexual assault allegations against the comedian.
The owners of the flagship U Street NW restaurant quietly painted the entire wall overnight, leaving behind a white wall with the messages "I love Ben's [since] 58" and "New Year New Mural."
The old mural featured Cosby, former President Barack Obama, radio host Donnie Simpson and music legend Chuck Brown.
Ben's drew criticism from some of its customers when it had previously declined to take the mural down after dozens of women came forward with accusations Cosby drugged and sexually assaulted them.
But members of the Ali family, who own the restaurant founded by Ben Ali, said the ongoing Cosby scandal was not responsible for their decision to remove the mural.
"It wasn't about that," Sonya Ali said, referring to the scandal. "We thought the weather has beaten up that mural over the last five years. This is a great time to refresh."
Her husband, Kamal Ali, echoed her statement, saying the mural "needed a refresh anyway."
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"He [Cosby] hasn't come up for years really in terms of the public. It's only the news reporters who ask," he said. "Mr. Cosby is still our brother. Despite any actions, he's still our brother. We love him dearly and want nothing but the best for him."
Now, the Alis are asking their customers to chime in and vote for who should be depicted on a new mural.
They've created an online poll with a long list of famous historical and contemporary figures for voters to choose from. Posted Thursday morning, Sonya Ali boasted the poll had already received over 600 votes by that afternoon.
Some names on the list are predictable -- Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King Jr. and Obama -- but other inclusions are more surprising: Gabriel "Fluffy" Iglesias, Rachael Ray and Jimmy Fallon.
Also on the list: Bill Cosby.
"We have no idea who's gonna end up on the wall. But we're excited, we're really excited," Sonya Ali said. So far, Barack and Michelle Obama are trending "really hard," according to Kamal Ali.
"What we really want is expressions of peace, love, hope, that type of theme," he said. "We would like this country and this world to come together as one so it's gonna be what the people decide."
Passerby Julie Wenah was encouraged by the idea of a new mural, and hopes that something "thoughtful" will be on the wall soon.
"I definitely love President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama," she said. "I would ask Ben’s to be thoughtful about who encourages and what inspires them and what represents unity for the nation."
According to Sonya Ali, the restaurant is hoping work on a new mural will begin by spring.
To vote on which six people should grace the new mural, visit Ben's Chili Bowl's website.